By the end of the battle for last place, most of Mercedes-Benz Stadium was empty.
The fans hoping to see the revived Falcons, instead got the team that played the first eight games of the season.
The Bucs, who had dropped five of their previous six games, overpowered the Falcons on their way to a convincing 35-22 victory Sunday.
The Bucs improved to 4-7, while the Falcons dropped to 3-8 and are now in sole possession of last place in the NFC South.
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“Certainly not how we wanted to return home in front of our fans,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. “We knew it was going to be a fight. Every divisional game is.
“We had an opportunity to start strong and play the complementary football like we have done over the last few weeks, but we didn’t have any success doing that today. It didn’t carry over.”
The Falcons’ modest two-game winning streak was snapped as they had difficulty covering Bucs wide receiver Chris Godwin, who had seven catches for 184 yards and two touchdowns. Also, the Falcons’ offensive line couldn’t get the running game going and did a poor job of protecting quarterback Matt Ryan, who was sacked six times and suffered 12 quarterback hits.
“We all need to play better,” Ryan said. “When we look in the mirror you know that. Our guys up front know that. I know that.”
Ryan and guard Jamon Brown attribute the poor pass protection to the offense being out of sync.
“In the pass protection portion of it there’s running backs, offensive linemen, the quarterback, getting the ball out and trying to not let them get home,” Ryan said. “I think across the board today was not good enough.”
Brown, who rotated with Wes Schweitzer at right guard, concurred with Ryan.
“We weren’t in sync like we normally are and that’s what led to those quarterback hits and quarterback sacks,” Brown said. “That will be something that we clean up for sure.”
The timing notwithstanding, the Falcon got whipped up front.
“I wouldn’t say they were doing anything special,” Brown said. “As an offensive line, of course you don’t any of our quarterback or backs to be hit like they were today.”
Ryan had his lowest passer rating of the season at 59.2. He had 60.6 in the loss to the Rams.
The Bucs’ final score came off a sack and forced fumble by defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul. Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh scooped up the loose ball and scored from six yards out.
Suh’s touchdown was a fitting way for the Bucs to end their scoring as the Falcons weren’t able to block the Bucs for most of the day.
Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston completed 18 of 28 passes for 313 yards three touchdowns and two interceptions. He finished with a passer rating of 108.2.
Entering the game, Winston was the most sacked player in the league with 36. The Falcons didn’t register a sack and had just one quarterback hit.
“We were getting him off his spot,” defensive tackle Grady Jarrett said. “With a guy like him you have to be discipline in your rush lanes. Guys were making a heck of an effort today. But just some things didn’t go our way.”
Ryan completed 23 of 46 passes for 271 yards, no touchdowns and one interception before leaving early in the fourth quarter with the game out of hand.
The Bucs held a 19-10 lead at halftime. The Falcons’ offensive line gave up three sacks as the normally accurate Ryan was harassed into 8 of 19 passing in the first half.
The Falcons opened the game with a 25-yard field goal after a promising drive — featuring a 53-yard reception by tight end Jaeden Graham — stalled at the 7-yard line.
After an exchange of possessions, the Bucs took the lead on a 71-yard touchdown pass to Godwin. Linebacker Deion Jones was chasing and free safety Damontae Kazee missed his attempted tackle.
Linebacker De’Vondre Campbell intercepted a Winston pass intended for fullback Dare Ogunbowale to set up the offense at Tampa Bay’s 19. Six plays later rookie running back Qadree Ollison scored on a 1-yard touchdown run to make it 10-7.
The Bucs then took control of the game with three straight touchdown drives.
Winston tossed a yard touchdown pass to Godwin. The extra point was missed to make it 13-10.
After a three-and-out and sack by Bucs rookie linebacker Devin White, the Falcons downed a punt at Tampa Bay’s 5-yard line.
The Bucs promptly drove 95 yards over 11 plays and scored when Winston tossed a 1-yard touchdown pass to defensive tackle Vita Vea, who was lined up as the fullback.
After halftime, the Falcons had the Bucs at third-and-9, but Winston scrambled for 24 yards. The Bucs drove 75 yards over nine plays and running back Ronald Jones scored on a 4-yard touchdown run. The extra point attempt was blocked by Kendall Sheffield as the Bucs held a 25-10 lead.
The Falcons, trying to make a move, committed a turnover. Bucs cornerback Carlton Davis took the ball off wide receiver Calvin Ridley.
Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones suffered a shoulder injury in the second quarter, but he returned to the action and helped in a 13-play drive that ended with a 40-yard field goal with 1:40 left in the third quarter to make it 25-13.
Jones tried to play while favoring his right shoulder. The Falcons were already without offensive weapons in running back Devonta Freeman and tight end Austin Hooper.
“His willingness to go out there and compete is unmatched,” Ryan said. “Today, let’s face it, he was hurting. I’ve always been impressed with his toughness and competitiveness.”
Tampa Bay’s Matt Gay added a 32-yard field early in the fourth quarter.
The Falcons, trying to rally, had to settle for another field goal after a 13-play drive. Younghoe Koo made a 38-yard field goal with 8:16 to play.
Matt Schaub, who came on in relief of Ryan, tossed a 21-yard touchdown pass to Ridley with 1:50 left.
The Falcons will host the Saints at 8:20 p.m Thursday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
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